Aug. 3, 2012
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Former Michigan State wrestler and NCAA Champion Franklin Gomez will wrestle in the 2012 London Olympics on Saturday, Aug. 11, in the 60kg freestyle division. Gomez, representing his native Puerto Rico, is relishing an opportunity that he never even imagined.
While many Olympians have their sights set on making it to the Olympics and then having one prize and have a singular focus once qualified, that isn't the case with Gomez. Although thrilled to be at a part of the Olympics, he said that winning isn't all that matters and he is honored to have qualified and represent his home country.
"My main goal is to do my best in every match and I know the winning part will take care of itself," Gomez said. "Someone has to win and someone has to lose. I don't have to focus on `Hey I'm going to go out there and win the gold medal.' That's not me. I'm in the Olympics but I know I can go there, lose my first match and be out."
Although humbled, Gomez and Besik Kudukhov of Russia are both considered the favorites in their class. They met at the Grand Prix of Germany in June and Gomez beat Kudukhov, who hadn't lost a match in three years, setting up what some feel will be a rematch in London.
"Everyone there has a chance to do well," Gomez said. "Even though people may say we are the favorites, I really see myself as a warrior. I just have to go out and do my best."
Spartan head coach Tom Minkel mentored the 2009 NCAA Champion while at Michigan State and wasn't surprised about his demeanor.
"Franklin is by nature a quiet young man," Minkel said. "However, he lights it up on the mat. He is an exciting and dynamic wrestler. He really came in to his own in international wrestling last year when he finished second in the World Championships, losing only to four-time world champion, Besik Kudhukov, from Russia. However, Franklin avenged that loss in June at the Grand Prix in Germany defeating Kudhukov without giving up a single point."
Before qualifying for the Olympics, it wasn't a goal that he had in mind or strived for but he does relish the chance to compete internationally against the best in the world.
"My upbringing, and where I grew up, I never really knew much about the Olympics," Gomez said. "I don't have a lot of recollection of it and right now it is just another tournament to me. I didn't have a goal in mind; I just enjoy competing and wrestling internationally."
Gomez was born in the Dominican Republic and later moved to Puerto Rico with his mother. In Puerto Rico he was able to learn the sport and recognize the talents that he had. However, it wasn't easy, and that is one of many reasons he decided to wrestle for Puerto Rico instead of the United States.
"I am the person I am because of Michigan State."
"It is an honor for me," Gomez said about representing his country. "I had the chance to represent the United States but opted to wrestle for Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico has never had an Olympic champion in any sport.
"I figured why not try to make some history, some big history. I chose to wrestle for Puerto Rico because that is where I grew up and learned how to wrestle. I was really blessed to be able to do that."
Puerto Rican athletes have won a total of six medals in the Olympic Games, all in boxing. They also have yet to have a gold medal winner and have only 25 athletes competing in the 2012 Summer Olympics, compared to 529 athletes for the United States.
Gomez noted the resources that are available in the United States compared to Puerto Rico are in two different realms. He is hoping that by representing his country he can try to grow the sport and also be an inspiration.
"I remember when I was growing up I barely had anything," Gomez said. "I wrestled with no shoes for four months, no wrestling shoes at all. In Puerto Rico people really need a lot of help and motivation, which is one of my main goals, besides an Olympic medal, to be a bridge to the community and help to motivate the kids in any way that I can."
"Franklin was one of the most outstanding wrestlers we've ever had here at Michigan State," Minkel said. "He epitomized what it means to be a student-athlete. He was an honor student, involved in his church, and an NCAA wrestling champion."
Gomez focused on the educational aspects when thinking back to his time at MSU and he doesn't feel like he would be in the position he is without the guidance of many at Michigan State.
"Ultimately I represent Puerto Rico but Michigan State is always in my heart and I am thankful for the opportunity they gave me to get a top notch education," Gomez said. "I am still a Spartan, I always remember Michigan State and I always want to go back."
One thing Gomez credits MSU for is support that he received and the opportunities that were presented to him. The student-athlete support services department, along with the wrestling coaches, were instrumental in him emerging at Michigan State.
"I am the person that I am because of Michigan State," Gomez said. "There are a lot of people that helped me, especially from the educational aspect. I barely spoke English when I got there and there was a lot of tutelage from the Smith Center and collaboration with the wrestling coaches. I am who I am because of a lot of people putting the pieces in the puzzle. I am thankful and grateful for those people at Michigan State."
Gomez will compete in his first Olympic Games on Aug. 11, and will have both Puerto Rico and Michigan State University following his journey. But these Olympics may serve as the platform to do even more good.
"My whole goal goes beyond getting a medal," Gomez said. "I am a man of faith and I know God has given me the talents and abilities, and obviously you have to develop those talents and abilities. My goal has always been beyond a medal.
"When I was growing up I didn't have a lot of resources. One of the things that helped me was my coach being pro-education and really serving as a mentor. My goal is to be a mentor for other kids and especially those coming from broken homes. And to help open their eyes, it doesn't matter your background or how hard you have it, you can still do great things in life."